Monday, December 29, 2008

Tucson birds - part 2

Tucson is a great city for bird photography.... there are birds all over the place. I've been hooked on a small flock of Canvasback that have found a small pond as their desert oasis. This is a tough species to shoot - I've never had a good crack at them until now - so I'm taking full advantage of the great opportunity. They're one of my favorite duck species.

Here are a few photos from the past couple days. All shot with EOS 1Ds mIII and 500IS with 1.4x or 2x teleconverters.

Photo 1: Canvasback incoming

Photo 2: Canvasback portrait

Photo 3: Cactus Wren

Photo 4: Northern Mockingbird

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I thought this photo might help to spread the holiday cheer! This was some kind of domestic hybrid duck that was hanging out in a flock of ducks I was photographing in New Mexico. I nick-named it "Fluffy" and smiled every time it swim past us. Although I've been photographing amazing natural landscapes and species almost daily, this is one of my favorite trip photos because of the character it evokes.

The holidays are going great..... I'm spending time with my folks at a beautiful rental house in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains in Tucson. Since the weather has been dull, I've been enjoying being lazy..... vegging out in front of the television, fattening up on great food and drinking fine red wine. What a perfect break from life in the camper van.

I wish everyone a great holiday season!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2 Month Trip Update with Stats

Today marks 2 full months on the road since departing from my father's house in Kingsville, Ontario on October 20,2008. The trip has been incredible so far.... and I sure appreciate being down south when my friends tell me about all the snow back home right now. I'll take blowing sand over blowing snow, any day!

First, let me thank everyone who has been following the blog and especially those who've taken time to post or send comments. A huge THANKS!

I thought you might be interested in some of the trip stats which are current as of today:

  • 19,955 photos taken
  • 14,180 km driven
  • 170 km walked carrying my camera gear
  • 77 species of birds photographed
  • 1,156 unique visitors to this blog (don't worry, I don't know who you are!)
  • 5 days - longest time I've gone without a shower
  • 13 times eating Mexican food for dinner
  • 7 pieces of camera gear damaged or wrecked
  • 1 hard drive ruined (backed up)
  • $1.49 US/Gallon - cheapest gas [equals about 50c/litre CDN]
  • 3 Mexican residents seen climbing the fence between Mexico/US border then running
  • 1 public washroom found with bullet holes straight through both walls

Every day has new adventures and photo opportunities. Thanks again for continuing to read the blog!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tucson birds - part 1

This morning I met up with legendary raptor photographer Ned Harris, who very generously took me to some outstanding bird photography opportunities around Tucson. It was such a good morning, I was nearly in a state of bird photography euphoria!

Lunch was at a Tucson diner called "Luke's Italian Beef". If you're ever in town, be sure to stop by for a delicious sandwich at a bargain price.

I'll be in Tucson for the next couple of weeks spending the holidays with my folks. Expect to see many photos of birds and Saguaro cacti.

Photo 1: Peregrine Falcon (Catalina Mountains in background).
EOS 1DsmIII; 500IS lens + 2x. Image cropped about 30%.
What better way to start a day than with peregrines in sweet light!

Photo 2: Canvasback drake; EOS 1DsmIII; 500IS lens + 1.4x TC
Close Canvasbacks....what a dream! I shot about 10 gigs of them. Will post more later.

Photo 3: Ring-necked Duck drake; EOS 1DsmIII; 500IS lens + 1.4X
I could shoot RN ducks all day!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Madera Canyon

This week I spent a couple of days shooting in Madera Canyon in the beautiful Santa Rita Mountains. Although the weather has been fairly cloudy and windy over the past 5 days, there were a few excellent photo opps. Two cooperative Painted Redstarts in Madera were a highlight! The birding was pretty good too..... I had great looks (and got so-so photos) of Arizona Woodpecker and Elegant Trogon.

Unfortunately I spent today in a repair shop in Tucson getting work done on the van (new CV joints). But it was a good chance to hunker down at my laptop and catch up on photo work, which will pay for the van repairs!

Over the next few days I have some superb bird photography lined up, so check back again to see the results!

Photo 1: Painted Redstart
EOS 1DsmIII; 500/4IS + 2x

Photo 2: The Santa Rita Mountains at Madera Canyon
EOS 1DsmIII; 17-40mm; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer and 2 stop hard edge ND grad

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alex Mody photo road trip

One of the cool things about travelling to beautiful natural areas is that you end up meeting lots of other outdoor photographers. I bumped into Alex Mody at Bosque del Apache and it turns out that he is also on a photo road trip/adventure (for 3 months).

Alex is a young photographer with outstanding talent. When I was his age I think I was still photographing with a Kodak disk camera!

Be sure to check out Alex's website:
And follow his trip blog:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sulphur Springs Valley, Arizona

This past week I've been photographing mostly near the Whitewater Draw in the Sulphur Springs Valley of SE Arizona. This is a great birding area with a wide variety of species to shoot, and is especially known for raptors.

I've been staying in the town of Bisbee, which is a vibrant community full of eccentric folks.... a haven for hippies and artists. It's a cool town!

Photo 1: Mule Deer
EOS 1DSmIII; 500/IS + 2x

Photo 2: Loggerhead Shrike
EOS 1DSmIII; 500/IS + 2x

Photo 3: Ferruginous Hawk in flight
EOS 1DSmIII; 500/IS handheld

Photo 4: Northern Harrier
I've been trying to get a half decent shot of a harrier for years. It finally happened this evening!
EOS 1DSmIII; 500/IS + 2x
Photo 5: Sunset over Mule Mountains
EOS 1DSmIII; 70-200/2.8; no filters

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nikon Humor

I don't get caught up in the debate between which camera system is best (it's obvious to me that the system you're out shooting with is the best!), but when my friend sent me this humorous link - a Nikon rant - I laughed so hard I nearly spit coffee all over my laptop:

Advance apologies for anyone who might be offended by the Hitler reference, but take it for what it is....

Monday, December 08, 2008

Southeast Arizona

I'm camped out in the desert tonight under a bright moonlit sky. Although I'm in the middle of nowhere, there is good cellular coverage (I guess there's nothing to block the signal)... that's how I'm able to make this post.

Photo 1: There was a beautiful sunset last night with dramatic clouds over the Mule Mountains. This one is for my stepdad Tom, who has a general dislike for sunset photos!
EOS 1Ds mIII, 70-200/2.8 lens; Singh-Ray 2 stop ND grad on the sky; 3.2s @ f/14

Photo 2: Vermillion Flycatcher is one of the birds I most wanted to photograph this trip, but I wasn't expecting to have much luck until spring. Boy was I wrong! I found several relatively cooperative birds today. I'll probably spend most of this week photographing them.
EOS 1Ds mIII; 500/4 IS lens with 2x; 1/1000s @ f/8

Photo 3: Self-portrait from atop the Mule Mountains, overlooking the town of Bisbee, Arizona. Here's me this afternoon, proof for my family and friends that I'm still alive and eating well. Craig, thanks for the reminder to shoot some self-portraits!
EOS 1Ds mIII; 24-70/2.8 lens; 1/15s @ f/22

Note: For self portraits, I now use the fancy Canon cable release/interval timer (the one that is ridiculously expensive). I set it to shoot a frame every 10 seconds, which means I don't have to run back and forth to the camera for each shot.

I've got so many more photos to share, but I have to ration the use of my laptop out here in the desert so I don't deplete the batteries. More to follow later...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

White Sands National Monument

I stopped for a brief overnight at White Sands National Monument on my way south from Bosque del Apache. When I arrived mid afternoon, it was rainy and heavy overcast so it was an ideal time for a nap (I was completely exhausted). When I woke up a couple hours later, the sky was breaking with dramatic clouds and light. I ran into the dunes and took advantage of the brief conditions. Although I went back the next morning, there were no clouds in the sky and it just didn't measure up to the night before!

I'm now in southeast Arizona..... doing some hiking, photographing birds and catching up on photo work. The weather is fantastic and there is good coffee in town, so life is good!

White Sands Photos:
All taken with EOS 1Ds mIII and either 17-40mm, 24-70mm or 70-200mm lenses.
Singh-Ray circular polarizer and 2 stop hard edge ND grad.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Yes, even more Bosque del Apache

I've just finished two weeks at Bosque del Apache where I photographed so much, and slept so little, that it has been a struggle to keep the blog up! I left Bosque yesterday morning and headed down to White Sands National Monument for a quick overnight trip - which gave me one sunset and one sunrise to photograph the dunes (will share those photos in the next post). I left White Sands late this morning and am now near the town of Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. I've been here once before - about a dozen years ago - but I had forgotten how beautiful it is. The Chiricahuas are simply spectacular! I expect to spend a week or more here and each day will be torn between photographing the scenery and the birds, for which the area is famous.

Before I start showing you photos from White Sands and the Chiricahuas, I have to share a few more of the thousands of photos I shot at Bosque.

And on a side note, the first photo in my last blog posting (right below this one) - the image of the snow geese blast off - will accompany a column on me and some of my unconvential photo tips in an upcoming issue of Popular Photography. I'll keep you posted when it comes out.

All below photos taken with EOS 1Ds mIII

Photo 1: Sunrise Reflections at Bosque del Apache
24-70mm lens at 28mm; ISO 200; 25 seconds at f/14

Photo 2: Sunrise over Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache
24-70mm lens at 34mm; Singh-Ray Gold n Blue polarizer; ISO 400; 1/6s at f/10

Photo 3: Sandhill Crane landing
500mm IS lens + 1.4x teleconvertor (=700mm)
ISO 400; 1/800s @ f/5.6; cropped about 10% for composition

Photo 4: Sandhill Crane drinking in golden reflections
500mm IS lens + 2x teleconvertor (=1000mm); ISO 125; 1/1000s @ f/8

Photo 5: Sandhill Crane blur
500mm IS lens + 2x teleconvertor (=1000mm); ISO 1250; 1/13s @ f/8
I must have tried a thousand pan blurs of birds in flight trying to get a winner. This one was a toss-up for the delete button. What do you think - is this 'art' or junk?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Bosque del Apache

I'm midway through 2 weeks photographing at Bosque del Apache with my friend Chris Dodds ( from Quebec. The Bosque is a refuge in central New Mexico that is famous for its huge numbers of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes that congregate here during fall and winter. This is a bird photographer's paradise. The last time I was here was almost 15 years ago and I had forgotten just how good it is. During the past week I've shot over 5,000 frames and can barely stay up each night to edit the day's photos. [my eyes are weary as I write this]

This morning was particularly outstanding... as Chris says 'epic'. The wind and light created perfect conditions to photograph inbound Snow and Ross's Geese. I probably shot more pictures this morning than any other day, ever. I've barely started editing the photos but here a few early favorites.

All photos taken with EOS 1Ds mIII.

Photo 1: Blast off at sunrise.
24-70mm at 58mm; Singh-Ray Blue n Gold polarizer; ISO 500; 1/20s @ f/8

Photo 2: Incoming Snow Goose
500mm IS lens + 2x teleconverter; ISO 400; Exposure set manually 1/800s @ f/8

Photo 3: Incoming Ross's Goose
500mm IS lens + 1.4x teleconverter; ISO 400; Exposure set manually 1/1000s @ f/9

Photo 4: Snow Goose (Blue phase) landing
500mm IS lens + 1.4x teleconverter; ISO 400; Exposure set manually 1/1600s @ f/8

Photo 5: Coyote
This Coyote was walking on a canal bank and I was able to get only a few photos from the van window using a beanbag for stability. It pays to be ready!
500mm IS lens + 1.4x teleconvertor
ISO 400; Aperture Priority; 1/320s @ f/8

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Mexico waterfowl

I'm currently shooting waterbirds in central New Mexico. The days have been long (up each day at 4:45am) but very productive! Here are some of my favorite photos from the past couple days. All taken with a 1DS mIII, 500mm IS lens and 1.4x or 2x teleconvertors.

Snow Goose drinking - reflection:

Ring-necked Duck stretch:

Hooded Merganser in autumn reflections:

Wood Duck pair in autumn reflections:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bosque del Apache

I arrived in the Bosque del Apache area yesterday morning and have barely stopped photographing since. I'm so tired right now I can barely keep my eyes open. Here are some initial photos. Will post more when I get a chance.

All photographed with EOS 1Ds mIII and 500IS lens with 1.4x or 2x teleconvertors.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Snow Geese

Townsend's Solitaire

Mountain Chickadee

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Wave in Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

One of the places that I've wanted to see and photograph, probably more than any other spot in the southwest, is the famous "Wave" in Paria Canyon. You need a permit to go there and there is a daily quota of 10 walk-in permits. There are more people that want to go than available permits, so you have to show up the day before and try for a spot by lottery. I tried a couple days ago but without luck. Yesterday I gave it a second shot and won one of the 10 coveted permits. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for today was terrible -- overcast with a chance of rain. I lowered my photo expectations and prepared for drab light conditions.

In anticipation of the hike, I woke up early this morning and inhaled copious amounts of porridge to keep me fueled through the day. During breakfast the clouds went fiery red for sunrise, but lasted but a few brief moments before succumbing to thick overcast. What a tease!

I hiked out with some great folks who I'd met the day before - Jack, Linda and Andrew. We made great time over the rough terrain (3 miles each way) and arrived at the Wave mid morning. Seeing the Wave for the first time left me awestruck. It is quite simply one of the most remarkable rock landscapes I've seen anytime, anywhere. I think the only words I could muster were 'holy shit'.

Photographing the wave was a challenge in the poor light. I tried various polarizers to try to add some punch to the subdued colors and used ND grads on the sky to add drama. This was my one chance in a long time to shoot this place and I was going to make the most of it.

Would you believe that around noon, just while contemplating leaving, the overcast skies broke to blue skies with puffy white clouds. I photographed like mad for the brief window of time... it only lasted about a half hour before the clouds choked back in again. It started spitting rain as we finished our hike out. Damn, I am lucky!

Photo 1: Trying to make images in the drab overcast light - a self-portrait amongst the Wave patterns. EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray Blue n Gold polarizer; 24-70mm; 1s @ f/22

Photo 2: Another drab light image of the awesome patterns.
EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray Blue n Gold polarizer; 24-70mm; 1s @ f/22

Photo 3: The skies start to clear and light up the Wave. EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer & 2 stop hard edge ND grad; 17-40mm; 1/8s @ f/22

Photo 4: Blue skies over the wave.... I am elated!
EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; 17-40mm; 1/13s @ f/22

I'm off to Petrified Forest National Park tomorrow before heading into New Mexico to meet up with my friend Chris Dodds to photograph birds at the legendary Bosque del Apache refuge. Lots of more photos to come..........

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"The Subway" in Zion National Park

Yesterday I photographed the famous "Subway" slot canyon in Zion National Park (scroll down to see photos). Let me describe the hike for you. [please note that I am out of shape and carry far too much camera gear with me]

You start the hike by going down an extremely steep trail (the surface is loose rock) which basically plunges into a canyon. Apparently at least one person has strayed from the trail and fallen to their death. Once you get to the bottom, you have to walk a few miles up a river. Sometimes there is a small trail, sometimes you walk in the water, sometimes you are clambering over boulders. Then you reach a slippery cascading waterfalls (which you climb up) and shortly thereafter you arrive at the star attraction - a small slot canyon called the Subway. The rocks around the Subway are slicker than a wet ice rink. The more expensive the camera gear you have, the more slippery the rocks are.

I spent hours in the Subway, much of that time standing in cold, ankle deep water. The light kept improving later in the day and I had a hard time dragging myself away, but alas I needed to make the long hike out before it got too dark. Interestingly, somehow the trail had become longer and more rugged throughout the day. I ended up trekked out with another photographer who must have been an Olympic hiker.

By the time I got back to the spot where you climb up to the top of the canyon, I was already physically wasted. Going back up that canyon trail can only be described as sadistic punishment. I could manage maybe 50-100m up at a time before having to stop, pant like I had just run a marathon and spend a few moments wishing that I was dead. Alas, words cannot describe the sheer pleasure I felt upon reaching the parking lot at the top.

All in all, hiking to the Subway was a fun adventure and I'm happy with the photographic results. Having said this, I am enjoying a very lazy day today sitting drinking coffee in the town of Springdale at the Pioneer Lodge Cafe (great spot!).

Photo 1: EOS 1Ds mIII; 17-40mm lens (at 17mm); Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo polarizer
Exposure: ISO 200; 13s @ f/22; mirror lock-up & cable release

Photo 2: EOS 1Ds mIII; 17-40mm lens (at 17mm); Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo polarizer Exposure: ISO 200; 13s @ f/22; mirror lock-up & cable release

Photo 3: EOS 1Ds mIII; 17-40mm lens (at 17mm); Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo polarizer Exposure: ISO 200; 13s @ f/22; mirror lock-up & cable release
Yes, I placed the leaf there!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The famous Watchman shoot in Zion

The last couple days have been pretty dull for photography. It's been overcast with some rain and a thunderstorm even blew through this morning. Thankfully the skies broke after it and the rest of the day was sunny. Late this afternoon it started clouding over again and I was worried there would be no evening shoot. Even though I was tempted to pack it in for the day (was thinking about cold beer), I decided to go to 'the bridge' famed for it's vantage point to shoot sunset on The Watchman over the Virgin River. Am I ever glad I did - it turned out to be a spectacular sunset. I shot hundreds of images and stayed until well after dark. Here are a couple of the results.
Tomorrow I'm making a full day trip to the Subway slot canyon. I can't wait!

Photo 1: The photographers start lining up to get the best spot (I had it). See the black tripod with no camera on it and no person - that's where I was.

Photo 2: EOS 1Ds mIII; 24-70mm lens (at 42mm); Singh-Ray Gold n Blue polarizer and 4x6" 3 stop ND grad handheld in front of the lens. ISO 100; 2.5s @ f/20
Photo 3: EOS 1Ds mIII; 24-70mm (at 24mm); Singh-Ray LB Colorcombo polarizer and 4x6" 3 stop ND grad handheld in front of the lens. ISO 200; 13s @ f/22